The Submission of Listening

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The beginning of a sermon I’ll be sharing at Fellowship Church, Holden, in a couple weeks:

Hi. My name is Jeff Campbell. A couple months ago, Marty asked me to speak through our series on core values and we decided I’d take on the issue of biblical authority. After this, I spent some time in prayer, and I did some research, and I read my bible, and I wrote this really spiffy introductory story to share with you. I worked on it, I polished it, I even got to the point where I was ready to begin saying it out loud.

And then God had the audacity to get in the middle of it all. There I was, all set to say all these profound things about him. And he had to go and intervene in my life, render that original story quite moot, and he sent me back, to start again.

So maybe some day I’ll tell you that original introductory story I was going to share. But now, I’d like to share with you a different story.


But in order to understand this story, I’d like to tell you a little more about me: I[m going to be 40 in December and I’m having this whole mid-life thing going on. I’ve been a Special Education Teacher for about 13 years now. I’ve worked with violent, disturbed, and troubled kids for this time, and for much of that time I’ve felt like this is a calling, the place where I’m supposed to be. As I get older, and find myself in the most challenging teaching position I’ve ever been in, I have to tell you:

I am just worn out.

And I have had this idea that it is time for something new and different and exciting. Along with this idea is the realization: I don’t really have any marketable skills outside of teaching. I am quite done with what I have been doing. But I don’t know how to get somewhere else.

I’ve been listening closely to God. Trying to figure out where he wants me to go. Holding on to the idea that he’s maneuvering me somewhere new, even though I can’t see it.

As I’ve been looking for my next steps, it’s occurs to me: when we’re trying to figure out what to do we look in 3 directions:

We look inward. To see what we already know.

We look outward. To see what the people around us have to say.

And we look upward, to try and hear God.

Probably this isn’t the order we’re supposed to do things in. There is wisdom in doing all three at once. But for me, if I were to be honest I’d have to admit that for me it’s usually how it goes: first I check my own limited resources. Next I draw on friends and family. When these don’t pan out, that’s when I turn to God.


And in my little mid-life crisis thing, I began by looking inward. I reflected on the things I know about the world, about life, and about God. I thought about my teaching career as it has unraveled. I explored how to use this to leverage myself into a future that feels more fufillying. But the whole point is discovering something new, something that’s outside of my life experiences. So looking inward didn’t help.

And so next I looked outward. I am blessed to have this amazing support network. People who really love me. But in this case, none of them have any magical wands; they haven’t been able to say the magic word and suddenly make everything better. The truth is that two of the most important members of my support network, my wife Kiley and Pastor Marty, had counseled me against taking the job I currently have. When I looked outward last year, when I was offered this job, if I had listened to them, my current situation wouldn’t be quite the mess it is now. But I’m in this job now, it’s too late for looking outward to change much, and so I looked upward.

The best way for me to look upward, the best way for me to hear God’s call on my life is to follow the example of figures like Moses and Jesus: when I want to hear God, personally, I go out into the wilderness.

On the

day I was going to go spend that time with God in the wilderness, I woke up crazy stupid early. The rest of my house was still sleeping. It was pretty nice out already though.


I’d been getting ready to speak today for a while before that morning. Maybe I was feeling like I needed to be a little extra spiritual because of that. Whatever my motivation was, I decided I would do my daily bible reading before I left for the hike. I’d already decided on the passage in Philipians that we’re going to be reading in a few minutes, so I decided I’d read through that whole book again. I thought maybe God would speak to me and continue to shape the things he wanted me to say while I was out.


So I opened up to the book of Philipians. I decided that I didn’t really care about Joyce Meyer’s introductory summary, so I flipped past that page and just started reading chapter 1. One of the things I’ve been working on, as I read scripture, is to try and listen to the Holy Spirit drawing my attention to specific verses, phrases, or individual words. As I read through Philipians 1, the phrase that jumped out at me was verse 6: He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ, developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.

As I noticed those verses, I want to confess something to you. I want to tell you that in the back of my brain, I had this suspicion. Some days, when I’m really meditating on a verse like that one, I get treated to a sense, from God, of how loved and special I am to Him. On that morning I had this idea that I would be walking under the trees and I would just be penetrated with the unshakeable conviction that God began a good work in me, that I was special and loved and cherished.


When I’ve had experiences of God speaking to me through verses before, I believe that these were true experiences of the living God.

As I stand here before you now, I want to own that on that particular morning, I was presumptious and arrogant in my expectation that it would go that way on this day. I know now that I was busy trying to cage a creator who won’t be caged, I was busy projecting my expectations on a God much bigger than all of our expectations.

I drove out to the rail trail, parked the car, and headed out. It was a good morning, almost a perfect temperature. Runners jogged past me. Bicylist cruised by. The sunlight came in, filtered through the bright green canopy of leaves overhead. I got myself ready, hoping for that little buzz of God’s love, as if the maker of the universe was nothing more than an energy drink.

I wandered off the path, toward a river. There were these two rocks forming a sort-of chair, remnants from a dam where an old mill used to be. I sat down on them and I watched the river.

And that verse came back into my head:

He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ, developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.

I started trying to use God’s word for my own benefit. I started asking God what kind of grand project he had waiting for me. I have some hopes and dreams about where God might lead me. I thought that this was a pretty good time for God to tell me that he was planning on taking me in those directions. And so I told God that.

And in my head, I head that verse again:

He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ, developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.

And the thing I noticed is that the good work is already begun in me. To which I thought, “cool. You’ve already been laying the ground work for me to transition to a job where I won’t have chairs thrown at me, and fourteen year olds swearing at me all day, a place where I don’t daily take a look at the ugliest parts of humanity. “

But I realized something as I sat there. That chapter of the bible, and also through out the rest of this scripture, there is this idea that God uses our trials and challenges to build us. I realized that the biggest projects aren’t the ones out side of us. I realized that God was much more interested in making me a disciplined, mature person than he was in putting me in a job where money would be easy and the stress would be lower.

I realized, as I sat there, and meditated on that verse, that I was going to have to wait. The good work isn’t something outside at all; it’s not about a job, it couldn’t be accomplished through even the most amazing act I could ever commit. The good work is in me. It’s me that will be devloped and completed. I can’t describe the feelings I had as I got up, walked up to the trail, and headed back to my car. I wish I could tell you I’m mature enough to be excited by all this. Because really, it’s awesome news. But I wasn’t ready for it. If I had been sure I would be alone I probably would have wept. I had this sadness, this heaviness. It was almost like mourning. It was a terrible, awful feeling. All things considered, I would have passed on it if I could. It was something that if I hadn’t been open in the right way it could have flown right by me. And though that would have been easier in the short term, it would have not been better in the long term.

I wonder how many times have I thought that God wasn’t speaking just because I wasn’t listening? And what about you: I wonder how many times you have thought that God wasn’t speaking just because you weren’t listening.

It’s easy to think that God isn’t speaking to us. It reminds me of an old joke. There was this guy, who lived in a city that was flooding. The fireman came in a truck and told him they were evacuating. He said, “No thank you, I’ve been praying to God and he’s going to get me out.”

And so the rain came down. And the streets turned into rivers and another emergency worker came by in a speed boat and told the man they were evacuating. And the man said “No thank you, I’ve been praying to God, and he’s going to get me out.” Well, the waters kept rising. The house was almost totally submerged. And the man climbed up onto his roof. And they called in the National guard. And the national guard went out in a helicopter. And they told man to leave with them. But the man, of course, said, “No thank you, I’ve been praying to God and he’s going to get me out.”


The helicopter flew away and the water didn’t stop. And the man eventually drowned. And he met God at the gates of heaven, and the man said, “Lord, I prayed and I prayed for you to get me out of that flood. Yet you, you just let me die!”


God looked down at the man and said “Let you die? What do you mean let you die? When you prayed, first I sent the fireman. And then I sent the emergency worker. And then I sent the National guard.”




I have this idea with us, when we die, we’re goin to say to God, “Lord, I prayed and prayed to hear your voice. And yet you never spoke at all.”


And I have this idea that God is going to look at us and say “Never spoke to you at all? When you looked inward, I spoke to your through the holy spirit. When you looked outward, I spoke to you through the people in your life. When you looked upward, I called you to your bible. I have sent you an entire book of words: 2 testaments. 1,189 chapters. 31,103 verses. 774,746 words. How can you say I never spoke to you?”


But of course, when we say that we want God to speak to us, him speaking to us through the bible is not what we mean. We want letters made out of fire in the sky. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work like that.





Here’s a different way of looking at it: My wife was gracious enough to give me permission to share something about the early years of our relationship. I love my wife and she has changed my life for the better in countless ways. But early on, we didn’t really get along that well.

In the early years of my marriage, there were lots of things that we did that really drove each other crazy. Really, much of the blame for that is mine. But The one thing that she used to do that would just make me crazy, the thing that irritated me the most, was when she would interupt me because she thought she knew what I was going to say.

If she were up here right now, she’d probably want to add that she was usually right, when she interupted me to finish my sentence, or when she interupted me to respond to what she thought I was going to say. If she pointed that out, she’d be right: much of the time she did know what I was going to say.

But this isn’t really the point. The point is it used to make me so crazy. Because it felt disrespectful. It felt like she didn’t really care about what I had to say. It felt like she was implying that I was incapeable of having a single thought that she hadn’t already seen coming.

Listening is really about submitting. I don’t mean this in “a wives submit to your husbands” kind-of way. That’s a discussion for some other time. I mean that when we stop and listen, we are recognizing that some one has something that is for us; that someone is worth us stopping what we are doing; that someone is worth us paying attention to. It’s about admitting that whoever is speaking might know something we don’t. It’s about agnowodging that maybe they have something to offer us.

In the end, my wife and I got past many of the things that frustrate us about each other. But even if she was still doing this to this very day, it wouldn’t really be that important in the cosmic scheme of things. Something much more important is this:

How often have I treated God like that: assuming I know what he was going to say, assuming I know why he says it. How often have I pretended he means what I want him to mean, instead of opening up my ears, opening up my heart; how often have I truly submitted to his authority?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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